After tornadoes, Southern Elis ‘hope for the best’

Recent sub-freezing temperatures may have students complaining about the hardship of New Haven winters, but for the families of a handful of Yalies, the past week has brought much more than unpleasant weather.

Tornadoes swirled through Tennessee, Arkansas and other parts of the South last Tuesday, killing more than 50 people in one of the regions’s deadliest storms in over two decades.

While none of the Tennessean Yalies interviewed for this story said they knew anyone who had been killed or seriously injured, several said their property had been damaged or their friends and families had been forced to take emergency precautions as a result of the tornadoes, whose winds were estimated to be blowing at 125-150 mph.

Jay Pilkerton ’09 said his hometown of Nashville was hit by thunderstorms but was largely unaffected by the tornadoes. But the country town of Franklin, Tenn., where his family had just purchased a cabin a month ago, was severely impacted by the storms and tornadoes.

“My father took a picture of [the town], and literally every tree had been ripped from the ground,” Pilkerton said. “It just looked bizarre.”

Pilkerton said he and his family were lucky — although all of the cabin windows were broken and some other minor damage was done, the cabin was still in relatively good shape.

“The other cabins on the property were completely destroyed. One was completely missing,” said Pilkerton, adding that a nearby Southern Baptist church was leveled.

Pilkerton estimated that the residents of approximately half the households in the town of Franklin their full time.

Courtney Pannell ’11, who hails from Jackson, Tenn., said two of her best friends from home were trapped at Union University, a private Baptist college in Jackson, during the storm. At Union, one of her friends was trapped with seven other girls in a small bathroom and had to be evacuated by a rescue team. Two of Union’s dorms were completely destroyed, Pannell said.

“The university has postponed classes until Feb. 18, but I don’t think they know what they’re going to do now with all the displaced students,” she said.

Pannell is a staff reporter for the News.

Gregory Mosby ’09, who is from Memphis, said that on the day of the storm, his older sister had to remain at her job after her shift because of a tornado warning.

“It touched nearby her workplace,” he explained.

Mosby said he was not surprised by the storms, which are a normal part of living in Tennessee.

“It can happen anytime — it just happened that this last storm was a tornado,” he said. “But we still don’t really know how to predict storms or to keep track of them, so you just have to prepare for them.”

According to Mosby, most Southern homes have either a closet located near a stairway, a basement or a cellar where residents can take cover in case of a tornado. In homes that do not such a hideout, residents are advised by conventional wisdom to “get into a bathtub under a mattress” when a tornado comes.

S.B.K Weintraub ’11, whose family lives in Nashville, said schools in Tennessee train students how to survive a tornado. The schools she attended before coming to Yale held tornado drills approximately three times a semester, she said, with drills occurring more often in March, when tornadoes are more frequent.

But Mosby pointed out that people are not always mindful of their own safety.

“There’s always going to be someone who isn’t prepared, and there are always going to be tragedies,” he said. “You just hope for the best.”

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